‘12 Giant Men’ Turkey must beat Germans to stay alive

Joakim Noah (R) of France fouls Ömer Aşık of Turkey during their 2011 Group E match in Vilnius, Lithuania on Wednesday.

September 08, 2011, Thursday/ 16:20:00

The “12 Giant Men,” as the men’s Turkish basketball team is popularly called, came from behind to beat defending champion Spain in their last Group A at the ongoing 2011 Eurobasket tournament in Lithuania on Monday.

However, the hard-fought win came at a great cost: fatigue. The Turks showed visible signs of fatigue in their first match in the second-round group stage against France on Wednesday. Hence, the match-weary Giant men could not stop Tony Parker as the San Antonio Spurs guard made seven of eight free throws in the final 18 seconds to lift France to a 68-64 victory.

“We lost a match we could easily have won,” lamented Turkey’s Milwaukee Bucks small forward Ersan İlyasova. “We played very badly in the third quarter and fell 14 points behind due to a lack of concentration. “In the final and fourth quarter we tried to put our act together, but we missed several opportunities and had a couple of poor turnovers toward the end and thereby lost a very important game,” he added.

The 12 Giant Men must therefore beat the Germany and Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki today to keep their survival hopes in the championship alive.

Turkey made a bright start on Wednesday with a 10-2 run but soon caved in to an iron-clad French defense, which forced 16 turnovers from their opponents, who also missed 19 of 24 three-point attempts.

“We missed seven or eight open shots and survived a late scare as we relaxed a bit too much, but in the end we won a great game of basketball,” said France coach Vincent Collet. Host Lithuania took a big step toward the quarterfinals after 19-year-old center Jonas Valanciunas lifted them to an impressive 100-90 win over Serbia later on Wednesday. The result also meant that France became the first team to secure a berth in the last eight after a scrappy success against Turkey earlier in the day stretched its perfect record to six wins. Having carried two wins against Serbia and Germany from their preliminary pool into the second group stage, France tops Group E with three wins ahead of Lithuania and Spain which have two wins and one defeat each.

Serbia and Turkey have one win and two defeats apiece while Germany is winless and faces an uphill battle to finish in the top four who will advance to the quarterfinals. Group F, including the other six teams vying for the other four berths in the last eight, started on Thursday when upstarts Macedonia and Georgia played each other, Russia takes on surprise package Finland and Slovenia met 2005 champion Greece.

Roared on by a capacity home crowd of 11,000 in the Siemens Arena, Lithuania produced its best performance of the tournament and blew away 2009 runner-up Serbia. The host led from start to finish, as Valanciunas, who steered Lithuania to the under-19 world title earlier this year, poured 18 points after making eight of his nine shots from the field.

Point guard Mantas Kalneitis led the winners in scoring with 19 points and seven assists, hitting five of seven attempts from three-point range, while veteran Sarunas Jasikevicius scored 14.

“The game was hard, we played with emotions and I want to thank our fans because we felt like having a sixth player on the court,” Valanciunas said during a news conference. “The assists and the number of three-point shots we converted made the difference,” he said. “I feel very well with this team and when I feel well I play well.”

Normally a strong defensive team, Serbia had no answer to Lithuania’s quick transition from one end of the court to the other which generated a staggering total of 25 assists and 11 three-pointers from 20 attempts.

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